Many years ago, I have no idea what year it was, sometime after 1981, I remember being at Beit Hadassah, it was probably during one of the holidays. Standing outside was Rabbi Moshe Levinger, taking in the scene. Which was, dozens of children playing outside. I could almost feel his fulfillment, seeing all these kids playing in Hebron.
Years later, after I’d begun working with the community, I remember seeing an article by a prominent journalist, who’d interviewed me, and a neighboring Arab. I have no idea what I said during the interview, but I’ve never forgotten the Arab’s words. He told the journalist that he knew the Jews were back in Hebron to stay. Why? ‘Look at the children, I see the children, I see their eyes.’
For many years now I’ve photographed Hebron’s Purim events, when everyone gets dressed up in costumes. Once in a while, a few days before it all starts, I take a deep breath and ask myself if I really want to do this again. After all, I have, probably, thousands of Purim photos. But, when the day arrives, and I get out the camera, I’m never sorry.
Purim officially begins on Saturday night, but for me, it started today. This morning, all Hebron’s children wore their costumes, and came dressed up to school. I spent the morning running from day-care, to nursery school, to kindergarten, and then to the playground, photographing the bubbly, bouncing, kids, in their Purim best. And I realized that it was the kind of occasion you never get tired of, no matter how many times you repeat it.
Why? Just one child, with a huge grin on his or her face, posing for a picture, while proudly telling me what they’re dressed up as, well, it makes your whole world light up. A group of little girls, dressed as brides or ballerinas, singing and dancing, falling on the floor and getting up, a couple of lions, roaring as they chase one another, Mordechais and Esthers, policemen, soldiers, and medieval knights, you name it, that’s what they are. They treat me, not to a breath of fresh air, rather to a breath of fresh, new life.
As I was photographing the kids and uploading material to facebook and our web site, our neighbors were hurling rocks at Beit Hadassah, Beit Romano and Israeli security forces in the area. They are protesting the closing of a kilometer of road on the Jewish side of the city. They call it Shuhada – we call it King David Street. It’s the only place in Hebron they have no access to – they have access to 97% of the city. We have access to only 3% of Hebron. Their demonstrations include slingshots, rocks and firebombs. A guest here, celebrating their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah by giving pizza and cake to soldiers, asked me if all they have are rocks. I answered, ‘no, but that’s all they’re using today.’ And it’s true. They’re saving whatever else they have for bigger and better occasions.
So, knowing that, what keeps us going?
I guess we each have our own idea, but for me, seeing these children, so happy, so carefree, so delighted, it’s worth more than a day of sunshine. Each child is like a sunbeam, streaming down on us, filling me with an energy that’s indescribable.
So, someone might ask, what’s the difference between Purim and other costume holidays that others celebrate around the world?
Very simply: Purim is a festival of pure, unadulterated faith. An evil person, aided by a seemingly all-powerful ruler, wanted to annihilate the Jews. They came very close to succeeding. Those around didn’t see any way out. It was, as they say, all over. But G-d wasn’t about to let that happen. As hidden as He seemed to be, actually He was there, all the time. Sometimes you see Him, sometimes you don’t, but He’s there, if you know it or not.
Only two people, Mordechai and Esther, battled against the Ahmadinajed who lived thousands of years ago. How could only two be victorious against such a strong, but wicked leader, who had then the equivalent of today’s atomic bomb on his side? They did what they could, and prayed, and had faith in the L-rd above, and they won the war. The Jews were saved, and the result of that episode was the return to Israel, to Jerusalem and the rebuilding of the Temple, Beit HaMikdash.
Our struggles against the Hamans of the 21st century aren’t fought by only two. Today, back home in our land, all of us, men, women and children, by our very being in Israel, is tangible evidence of the Divine presence, which hovers above us, ensuring our everlasting life in Israel. The very fact that that, against all odds, Jewish children celebrate Purim in Hebron, is in and of itself proof; who could have ever imagined, 70 years ago, Jewish children in Hebron?
Years ago, during the intifada, called the Oslo war, a group of men wanted to visit Hebron on Purim. We rented a bullet-proof bus, and supplied them with helmets and vests, as they requested. After all, snipers were shooting at us from the surrounding hills. Such precautions were a logical necessity.
As the bus entered Kiryat Arba the men put on their paraphernalia . Then, arriving in Hebron, they looked out the bus window and saw….
Dozens of children, running around outside, in their Purim attire, playing games at the Avraham Avinu neighborhood Purim carnival. They looked at the kids, looked at themselves, took off the vests and helmets, and then stepped off the bus, into the throng of kids.
That’s the power of Purim, that’s the power of Hebron, that’s the power of children.
Purim Sameach from Hebron.